Hard News by Russell Brown


Staying Alive

I ride a bike in Auckland. I have an obvious interest in the drivers with whom I share the roads taking care and being aware of my presence. My life depends on it. But I cannot find it in me to be angry at either Glenn Becker, who faced a charge this week of carelessly use of his car causing the death of 27 year-old Jane Bishop on Tamaki Drive, or the judge who dismissed the case yesterday.

When I read this report on Tuesday, I wondered whether there would be a conviction, and perhaps whether there should be. When Becker went to leave his car, he had traffic passing him, nose-to-tail, at walking pace on his right and cyclists passing slowly on the shared-used path to his left. And Jane Bishop on his right, coming down the very narrow corridor between him and the traffic, at 20km -- on or about, as this picture indicates, a bend. There was way too much going on there.

The judge yesterday was satisfied that Becker checked his mirror before leaving the car, and "did all he could do in the circumstances, short of getting out on the passenger side.'' Whether or not you agree with that assessment, I think Barb Cuthbert is right in saying in the Herald today that Becker had been set up as "the fall guy" for official decisions:

Mrs Cuthbert said her organisation had done an audit of Tamaki Drive for the old Auckland City Council in 2006 - four years before the accident - and concluded that carparking spaces at the Kelly Tarlton's bend created a "highly hazardous pinchpoint".

She said the council did not remove the spaces until two days after Ms Bishop, 27, was killed.  

Sometimes, the court heard, Jane Bishop would opt to take the path rather than the road home, but Tamaki Drive's shared-use cycleway can be an inappropriate and even dangerous place to ride at commuting speeds. It's a footpath with a white line, used by walkers, runners, bladers, dogwalkers and slow riders. The other option at rush hour is that narrow corridor between parked and moving cars.

We're not giving either motorists or cyclists much room for error here. The answer is obvious and increasingly urgent, especially in places where the contention for road space is as extreme as it can be along Tamaki Drive. Indeed, the chairman of the Auckland Council's transport committee, Mike Lee, says it this morning in the paper:

"What we need in Auckland is quite separate cycle lanes."

The evidence from other cities is that this is both possible and practical. So let's start doing it, now.

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